Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Making Healthy City Planning Work

Here is a recent article on some of the work we are doing in Richmond, CA, promoting Healthy City Planning. Importantly, the article emphasizes that it takes leadership and action on multiple levels to make healthy city planning work -  not just in the planning or health departments.  The City Council and Mayor have made this part of their agenda, as has the City Manager and multiple city agencies. Contra Costa County Health Services, the public health department for the city of Richmond, is also playing a leading role.  While the article rightly notes that moving toward a healthier and more equitable Richmond is not about health care alone, improving access to and affordability of clinical services is important.  To support this, the County-run health clinics, including school-based services, as well as Kaiser - the largest health care provider in Richmond - are taking an active role in linking prevention programs with essential basic care.  Perhaps most important, community-based organizations are leading the way - - organizing residents, proposing and participating in projects and holding the government and industry (such as Chevron) accountable.  One sign of growing community accountability toward health, is the resubmission on May 23, 2011, by Chevron for a Conditional Use Permit to upgrade its Richmond refinery and a commitment to address the environmental issues the company ignored and Communities for a Better Environment and others successfully sued the company to address. 
Making healthy and equitable city planning work demands action and leadership on multiple fronts, and Richmond is increasingly moving in the right direction.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Community-led water service: Kosovo village, Mathare slum, Nairobi

Our UC-Berkeley-University of Nairobi and Muungano Support Trust (MUST) collaboration in 2009 resulted in many positive outcomes for the residents of the Mathare Valley informal settlement.  In one village, called Kosovo, we helped plan and design for piped, 24-7, water access for each household. The Nairobi Water and Sewer Company eventually installed new water pipes and community members, through Muungano, are managing and maintaining the service by supporting residents to obtain meters and assist them in paying water bills.  While a comprehensive evaluation of this intervention is ongoing, here is an article by SDI describing some aspects of this community-level utility management .  Importantly, we are SCALING UP lessons from this project in our current Mathare Valley Zonal Plan, which aims to offer a comprehensive and integrated plan for improving infrastructure, economic livelihoods, housing, land rights and essential services, such as health care for all villages and over 150,000 residents of the Mathare Valley.

$300 slum house? Worthy but Worthless

The Economist published an article last month on the competition to build a $300 house intended to improve the lives of slum dwellers.  The article came from a blog post in the Harvard Business Review by Vijay Govindarajan, of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, and Christian Sarkar, a marketing consultant, who set out to explore the possibility of Govindarajan's idea of  'reverse innovation' - or an idea that starts in the Global South and makes its way to more wealthy nations (many of us know this already happens through stolen intellectual property, but that is a topic for another post).
What is the problem you ask?  Well, for starters, the response, Hands off Our Houses, in today's NY Times captures why this is fundamentally a bad idea for the urban poor - it doesn't include those intended to live in these houses in the design process.  This is a also a BAD idea because it fails to grapple with the complex relationships in informal settlements between housing, land rights, economic opportunities, gender rights, health and safety and a host of other issues.  With worthy intentions, this idea is likely to redirect resources toward a worthless outcome - a rational and nice looking house that will not improve the lives of slum dwellers.   
A fundamental error here is that design alone is NOT the solution - despite what green builders, architects, entrepreneurs and others continue to say.  The solution is an urban planning process where:
(a) slum dwellers drive the process;
(b) designs are not one-size-fits-all - but flexible to accommodate different uses, can expand and improve the existing social and cultural fabric of a community;
(c) donor & private sector resources support improvements to basic infrastructure (i.e., water, sanitation, roads, electricity, etc), schools, health care facilities AND housing, and;
(d) the process offers jobs, new skills, and builds community power.

Well, this isn't easy either, but it is being done.  Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) has been doing just this in tens of countries around the world.  As I've mentioned in previous posts, our team at UC Berkeley has been working with one SDI-affiliated network, Muungano WA Wanavijiji, since 2008 to support community-led planning in the Mathare Valley informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya.  Our process aims to act as an alternative to other planning and housing improvement schemes in Kenya, particularly the Government of Kenya's slum upgrading project in Kibera - -  where the government built housing for the urban poor, but local people prefer to rent out the housing rather than live in it! 

We must avoid the boutique design and technological quick-fixes promoted by business schools and the global elite in the donor and entrepreneurial community and invest in complex, messy, people-centered, locally-driven processes.